Process before Technology: A Strategy for Implementing Content Management

INTRODUCTION

A well-running system is obvious when observed from a distance; everyone knows what to do and when to do it.  There is a focus on quality.  There is very little waste.  There is a seamless partnership between technology and the people that work as part of the process.  A system with all of these characteristics can be difficult to achieve. 

This paper addresses the implementation of a Content Management System (CMS).  Specifically, it addresses the critical elements (inputs) a CMS requires in order to ensure a successful and sustainable implementation.  The end goal of the system is to help business users find information needed to efficiently do their jobs.  And Remember!  The goal is to simplify the management of content, not complicate the process with too much data and onerous steps.

Stated simply:The system should connect a user to the needed information

The 4 critical elements of a system that are addressed in this paper are:

  • Efficient Process
  • Quality Content
  • Accurate Content Information (metadata)
  • Dependable Technology

  

PROCESS: The series of steps - from content creation through content expiration - involved with writing, updating, managing, and viewing content.

Characteristics of an Efficient Process

·         Aligns With Business Needs and Advances Business Objectives

·         Clearly Defines Responsibilities

·         Controlled

Aligns With Business Needs and Advances Business Objectives

Start with an analysis of the business needs and then design and implement a process that addresses those needs.  All of process steps should add value.  For example, if your business is challenged with constant changes in external regulations, what can be done to ensure continual updating and review of your content in response to those changes?

Congress has just changed a law that has a direct effect on how your company is to do business. The corresponding policies and procedures for your company need to be updated in compliance with this new law.  How does this happen?  Who is responsible?  How does this change get communicated and disseminated to all of the affected parties?  These are examples of process issues/questions that must be considered. 

Clearly Defines Responsibilities

A successful system is a team effort.  All participants in the process must understand the entire process as well as their responsibilities within it.  There may be numerous rolls to fill:  authors to write content, filers to check content into the system, reviewers to look over the content, and approvers to confirm its accuracy.  Another role may be the person(s) responsible for monitoring external regulations and making sure the internal system accurately reflects those regulations.

Imagine…a law or regulation is changed externally and nothing is done in response internally…now a few documents are inaccurate and out-of-compliance. The next time there is a change, the same thing happens. Gradually…slowly …over time…the accuracy of the content in the system deteriorates. A few years later someone might say,” This content is really a mess! We need to fix it!”

Controlled

Content is controlled through established processes for writing, revising, reviewing, and approving the content.  Workflow should be configured to require multiple individuals to sign-off on content changes.  A numbering system for content ensures that each item can be uniquely identified.  Version management is critical in tracking changes and the life of the content.  Version management will also ensure that the most recent revision is being accessed by business users.  A master index is needed to effectively organize and manage the content.  The process should also define necessary distribution and archiving of content.  Anticipated result: all necessary updates are made and the users can be confident in the accuracy of the content.

An employee who is responsible for updating content proceeds to change all content that is affected by a new regulation that the employee has learned about.  The problem is that the regulation does not go into effect for another year!  By having multiple reviewers of the content, you can be more confident that this mistake will be identified and that the content will always be accurately changed  at the appropriate time.

Without a solid Process foundation, the entire system and content will gradually deteriorate.

 

Process should be the first consideration when planning the implementation of a Content Management System. The process is the foundation on which the rest of the CMS is built.

 

QUALITY CONTENT: Content that is consistent and accurate with regard to layout, writing style, and facts.

Characteristics of Quality Content

·         Templated

·         Clearly Written

·         Current, Accurate, and Relevant  

Templated

Content writers should start with a standard template to help reduce variation in the structure of the content.  Templates simplify the process by providing writers with a place to start.  For readers, a consistent format makes specifics within the content easier to find.   In addition, templated content will be much easier for an electronic system to dynamically publish.

You always shop at the same retail chain store near your house.  You shop there so often that you know where everything is: clothing, music, sporting goods…everything.  You are on a business trip to another city and need some items from your usual store.  When you walk in the store, you quickly notice how easy it is to find what you need, since it is arranged exactly the same as the store near your house!  The “content” of the store may change (new clothing lines, new brands), but the layout and general arrangement of the retail chain store is consistent.

Templates and standard formats can help create this same experience for users of electronic content.  No matter what content they are looking at or who has written it, they will have a general idea of how it is arranged and where they need to look.

Clearly Written

Consistency of writing style by content type across an organization is important.  As a general rule, the writing style should effectively communicate with the target audience.  For example, policies and procedures should always be written in a technical style, as opposed to a narrative style.  This means short, simple statements that clearly convey the meaning of the content to the reader.  In addition, important considerations may include use of common words, terms, and phrases, as well as and minimal use of acronyms.

Current, Accurate, and Relevant

Content must contain current, accurate, and relevant information so that it will be of use to the people who need it.  Inaccurate content can be a risk.  It is better to not publish content than to publish inaccurate content.

If a hospital patient is covered by Medicare, there are a number of documentation requirements needed in order to be fully reimbursed for any hospital services provided.  One example of this is the range of patient diagnoses.  They must be documented in a particular order, and the procedure in the Content Management system should specifically reflect the importance of this order.  This Medicare rule was eventually amended to require an indicator of blood results.  The absence of this new indicator would result in lost revenue as Medicare would not pay the full amount.  In this situation, it is critical that the procedure be updated, and communicated, as soon as the new Medicare rule is effective to avoid lost revenue to the organization.

If a system is implemented without Quality Content, the content will not be usable.

Ensuring quality content increases the likelihood of the proper use and outcomes of the process it describes. 

 

CONTENT INFORMATION: Information used to identify individual content items.  Title, author, date of next review, and category are examples of Content Information.

Characteristics of Content Information

  • Minimal
  • Standardized
  • Descriptive and Explanatory
  • Accurate

Minimal

Think through scenarios of how the content will likely be managed and used, and then work backward to make sure the Content Information supports these scenarios.  Care should be taken to scrutinize metadata based on the return on investment.  

Return on Investment: Ratio gained or lost on an investment

relative to the amount invested

Considerations for Return on Investment

Investment

Gain

•         Time to enter

•         Effort to enter

•         Storage requirements

•         Maintenance

 

•         Findable

•         Drives workflow

•         Reporting

•         Business objectives

 

A certain section of the business would like to include additional Content Information.  They feel it may be important to know all of the people that collaborated in drafting the content.  This would require that all of these names be added EVERY time the content is entered, even though the information may never be used.

Resist this urge to over-identify content, as the goal is to simplify managing content, not complicate the process with too much information.  As a general rule, it is best to not include content information if your justification starts with either “They might” or “Just in case.”

Standardized

There is a need to find all policy content that relates to the billing process at your company. This is a bit of a challenge, since the finance department has over 100 employees located in multiple locations, in 3 different states.  The good news is that you can find all of the content in one system; however, when you conduct your search you find that one group describes this content with the abbreviation “POL,” another group uses “POLICY,” and a third group uses “POLICIES AND PROCEDURES.” To make things worse…the groups also use different words when describing the billing process…

It is important to implement standardized naming conventions for Content Information.  Free text should only be permitted when titling and adding general comments to content.  All other Content Information should contain standard naming conventions.  Drop-down lists (no more than 15 items per list) and direct interfaces to source systems should be used wherever possible. This will ensure consistency across users and areas.

Accurate

Standardized lists and interfaces to source systems do not completely guarantee accurate Content Information.  There are still ways the information can be inaccurate.  The primary source of inaccuracies are user errors.  The person entering the information can simply pick the wrong item from the list.  Or they may not be trained well enough to know what to select from the list.   Processes must be in place to ensure that the correct information is attached to each item of content.  Workflow is an example of a process that can help maintain the accuracy of the content information.  Errors should be noticed in this review process and corrected before the content is published.

Descriptive and Explanatory

There is a sign outside an office building that lists all of the various businesses in the building.  In addition, the sign shows which floor each business is located and the office numbers of the employees of the businesses.  A person looking for a certain business or office can use that sign to know, before entering the building, if they are in the right place. 

Content Information in a CMS should work the same way as the building sign.  The Content Information should provide a user with enough information about the content to know who they could contact for more information and that they are in the right place.

Having minimal, standardized, and accurate Content Information will make the content easy to find.

 

TECHNOLOGY: Any electronic system to aid in the workflow, management, and publication of content.

Introduction

Often, a business will purchase a product from a vendor and believe that simply entering their content will resolve any content management problems.  After all, technology allows for process automation that will speed up workflow and help users find what they need, right?   Not Always.  Remember that the Process and Technology should form a seamless partnership to accomplish the goals of the system.  Carefully consider the characteristics listed below before adding an elaborate technology solution to your existing process.

Characteristics of Technology

  • “Works the First Time”
  • Supports the Process
  • Integrated
  • Consistent
  • Secure

“Works the First Time”

Make sure that the Technology is simple to use and is stable.  Ideally, the first time a user tries out the system, it works; icons are where they would expect them, links take them where they would expect to go, and they find what is needed easily.  This first impression can sometimes make or break the implementation of the system.  If the system doesn’t work the first time for a user, they may never come back to it.

Supports the Process

The Technology must not drive how the process works, rather the process (as defined in the Process section of this paper) should determine how the Technology solution works.  In addition, the Technology should assist in making the process easier. 

The process required that employees keep a manual ‘log’ of content to ensure that content is reviewed and updated on a consistent schedule.  Technology can assist with this by sending automated e-mails to notify content owners when the content is to be reviewed.

Integrated

Use existing source systems whenever possible.  If you are assigning names as content information, use the master employee database.  If you are adding information about department names, use the official departmental organizational structure database.  Bottom line: the content management system should only store your content and associated Content Information.  Don’t store information that exists elsewhere.  Let these other groups maintain their systems so you can ensure that you are getting the most up-to-date information.

Consistent

Simple is usually better. Build a system that supports the need and overall objectives, while keeping it simple for the user. Work that can be done with a content management system can be done without a system by people with the right skills. The process to manage content should be improved if needed, prior to adding technology: (garbage in – garbage out).  A purposefully selected system will automate content lifecycles and assist in managing control processes that support and advance business objectives.

Managing content without technology will be labor intensive and inefficient.

Current business processes, the existing content, and the users should drive the technology solution.

Summary

In this paper, we have discussed the 4 elements that are critical to implementing and sustaining a Content Management System.  All 4 are critical and the absence of any 1 of the 4 will have negative consequences on the entire system.

How do you know when you have successfully addressed all of these important elements in your implementation?  The best way to find out is to watch users interact with the system.

Process

Send content to someone for their review.  Do they know what their responsibility is to that content? Do they execute their step in a timely and accurate way?

Quality Content

Give an item of content to a user and observe what happens.  Do they have questions?  Do they get confused?  If it is a procedure, is the user able to complete the procedure correctly using only the content? 

Content Information

Ask the user to find all content related to a certain topic.  Do their search terms work?  Is the search returning the content that they are trying to find?

Technology

Can users easily navigate the system?  Do they ask a lot of questions?  Do they click on the wrong links?

The answers to these questions will help you determine what still needs to be focused on in your implementation.

End

 
   

Author Bios:

Brian Bernard is currently a Business Analyst at Mayo Clinic in the Division of Systems and Procedures.  He holds a BA degree from Hamline University and a MS degree in Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University.  In addition to his work with Content Management, Brian has focused on projects related to Surgical Systems and is also an Adjunct Instructor at Cardinal Stritch University. Brian resides in Rochester, MN where he enjoys golf, beer-brewing, and hiking.
Jackie Wright is currently a Project Manager at Mayo Clinic in the Department of Planning Services. Jackie led a team that established document control processes that were improved by the addition of a content management system. She holds a BS degree from Winona State University and a MA degree in Management from Saint Marys University. Jackie resides in Rochester, MN.